Imagine, you have a son with a disability, but it’s invisible so people can’t see it. Since they can’t see it, they don’t believe that anything is different about him. They just see a lazy, spoiled boy. Because you are careful about exposing your child to situations where too much stimuli might cause intense reactions, nobody thinks your child might need special coping tools. When you tell others about sensory meltdowns, they infer the problem must be with your parenting.
You reveal that your child was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He is like any other person in many ways, yet still remarkably different. Unique. Brilliant. Sensitive. Joyful. Well, not so joyful anymore. Not since he changed schools. You notice changes in him.
You see your son’s love of learning being crushed. Declining grades indicate a struggle in the classroom. At home, he appears more anxious, even depressed.
You ask about special education services, but are told your son won’t qualify—without an evaluation. You hire a tutor, but she says that your son knows the material and that the tutoring is a waste of money.
Now imagine your child at school. Teachers don’t understand the way your child processes the world around him. He lives in a world unlike yours or mine. His brain works on a different wavelength. That’s why you ask for supports. He needs minor accommodations to thrive in the classroom.
When you talk to your son’s teachers, they dismiss your concerns. They refer to his behaviors as something he will eventually get over. He just needs to try harder. Or you need to parent harder.
Your son is smart, even tests at a genius level. However, the school thinks he is anything but a genius. He doesn’t hand in his homework, even though he completed it. He misses deadlines. He doesn’t know to ask peers for assistance—which is a classroom expectation. He is afraid to ask the teacher for help because even though he should, he senses that she won’t like having to repeat herself and will become annoyed with him for no reason.
He doesn’t understand how to socially navigate the classroom—even if there are rules posted. He gets distracted, overwhelmed, and becomes unable to process directions from the teacher. But because he looks like every other student, teachers assume he will learn the unwritten rules of the classroom through osmosis. It will come naturally as it does for every other student, albeit it may take a little longer.
Your son loves music. He plays in the school band class. He plays well, but only when the notes are in print rather than in a digital format. You ask if your child can be graded by playing printed notes. His teacher rejects your request. He looks like every other child, so he can play music like every other child.
Your son suffers through the school day as a model student, but when he gets home the screaming begins and the depression sets in. The behaviors held in all day at school are unleashed, and you become the target of unspeakable rage. Screaming. Throwing things. Kicking. More Screaming. It doesn’t stop. The more you try to process what’s wrong and reason with him, the more the intensity grows. Talking about it only causes him to relive the pain—a pain that he can’t find the words to express. Whatever is hurting his heart to make him behave this way, you can’t stop. You feel helpless.
You are desperate. You love your child. You want him to succeed in school. In life. You need help, but everywhere you turn, you are denied. No one believes that your son is different.
And then a hero walks into your life. But he’s no Superman. He’s just some guy who works for a clinic who happens to care about kids. About your kid.
Finally, you feel validated. Someone believes you. He can see your child’s invisible disability. You learn that you have rights accorded to you by federal law. You realize how those rights have been violated and decide to take a stand.
You move forward with a Due Process hearing. And with that, new doors open as you enter the world of becoming a national advocate for all children with special needs. You imagine… that through your experience, you can make a difference in the lives of others.
Please share this article with all your friends as a way to promote Autism Awareness. Asperger’s Syndrome is listed in the DSM-IV as an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
(From Author: April is Autism Awareness Month. It is also the month that Robin Tenbrink will battle Utah’s Alpine School District in a due process hearing over allegations that the school district denied her son with Asperger’s the appropriate educational supports. For more information on the Tenbrink story visit http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/first-lawsuit-related-to-common-core/ and http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=28876954. I don’t know Mrs. Tenbrink personally, but I can only imagine what it must be like for a mother when the school district fails to give her child a free and appropriate education as required by law.)